A Spanish Bungalow Is Reimagined with Artistic Prints and Patterns

Most of the textiles are hand-made from a modern form of wood-block printing.

Kathleen Renda: You’re fearless with pattern and color — there’s even blue peony wallpaper on the living room ceiling!

Lee: I went a little wild! This is our first home, and as an artist who ­creates wallpaper, textiles, and home accessories, I was able to go all out with my own designs. It was also a way to breathe life into a pint-sized 1930s Spanish bungalow. Mind you, the rooms are small, and some of the hand-plastered walls are so wonky, they’re impossible to wallpaper. That’s what happened in the living room — the only straight lines were overhead, so I covered the ceiling in blossoms. The limitations ended up pushing the decor in a fun, playful direction. It’s irreverent, with personality and sophistication, and proof that there’s more to decorating around this architectural style than white walls and tobacco leather.

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sharon lee living room
Karyn R. Millet

Any worries that wall­paper would make tiny rooms seem tinier?

It sounds counterintuitive, but the opposite is true. In the living room, the blue ceiling seems to expand until it disappears — you’d swear the room opens out to the sky. The master bedroom is covered in pineapples—a motif that repeats on the matching ­fabric of the curtains and bed canopy. Being surrounded by all that pattern blurs boundaries, disguising the room’s smallness. You’re also lulled by the background color, a restful celadon borrowed from Korean porcelain.

Your tiger-print fabric has a fierce attitude! What’s the backstory?

They’re definitely not friendly house cats. For my son’s nursery, I wanted an animal pattern that would still seem cool when he’s a teenager. I am of Korean descent, and in our folklore, tigers ward off evil ­spirits and misfortune; as mystical creatures, their depictions aren’t bound by rules of proportion or anatomical correctness. Mine have powerful teeth and spotted foreheads, and I like to think they possess magic. Here, I paired them with my banana-leaf ­wallpaper. It’s like they’re roaming in a tropical jungle.

sharon lee nursery
Karyn R. Millet
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The Asian through lines in your collection aren’t always as overt.

My goal is to create American designs rooted in Korean heritage, and I love when people can’t pinpoint the Asian influences. My pineapple print is a great example: Here’s a fruit that’s a classic symbol of American hospitality, but I surrounded it with a floral crest replicating the paper flowers in the headdresses worn by Korean kings in the 1800s. Also, Koreans are very into their fruit. A big box of it is traditionally given as a gift, and my mother was always making elaborate fruit displays whenever guests came over, including her ­signature carved-pineapple boat.

sharon lee bar cart
Karyn R. Millet

How did you end up in such a creative career?

Destiny? My grandfather was an artist in Korea, my mother is a Korean folk painter, and growing up, I was always sketching and taking art lessons. When I was a designer working for Michael S. Smith, I realized there was a gap in the marketplace. I saw plenty of Chinese- and Japanese-inflected wallpapers and textiles, but there were almost none with a Korean bent — I started doing them, and my business was off and running. Now I have a home studio, and it’s heaven. My husband, Max, and I are homebodies; we’re happiest hosting the grandparents, playing with our son, and enjoying our bungalow. It’s dreamy and cozy. I have no idea what I did to deserve this!

See more photos of this gorgeous home:

This story originally appeared in the April 2018 issue of CQ.

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